Inc. Magazine is NOT Charging You to Write Their Story

Hi Erik, this is Ken Lehman of Winning Workplace. You wrote that blog post about Inc. Magazine’s Top Small Company Workplaces.


I recognized the company name, even if I didn’t recognize Ken’s name.

Photo of Ken LehmanKen had read my blog post where I questioned the ethics of Inc. Magazine’s Top Small Company Workplaces story, and the fact that they were charging $149 for the application review just to be considered for the TSCW review.

Turns out I was barking up the wrong tree. And I have to thank Ken for patiently, and kindly, setting the record straight. Here’s what he told me:

Winning Workplaces is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded by his family in 2001. They were the Fel-Pro family, a business that was started and run by his family for more than 80 years, before they were sold.

Winning Workplaces was created to help small and mid-sized enterprises to become great places to work. They have done this project for 8 years. This is their 9th year for the award.

2010 was the first year Inc. was their media partner. Prior to that, they worked with the Wall Street Journal, and prior to that with Fortune Small Business.

In other words, Winning Workplaces gives the awards, and they have a relationship for Inc. Magazine to write the article. From there, other journalists pick it up, and it gets published in other news outlets.

The fees that are assessed — and they didn’t assess for the first several years — are paid to Winning Workplaces, not to Inc. They are nominal and cover the administrative costs to do the project. They are not any kind of editorial or advertorial, as I had previously thought. No one needs to apply without seeing the application first, and on the website, you can preview the application before you put any money up.

Winning Workplaces is made up of a small staff and his family has put a lot of money into the project over the years. Ken doesn’t even get paid for this. He does it for the satisfaction of helping other companies.

Ken said that the people who complete the application will often tell Winning Workplaces that the process is very instructive to their own businesses, and it helps them think about their workplaces differently. It gives them ideas about how they can improve themselves, regardless of whether they win, become a finalist, or even miss the first cut.

This year, they have 28 people lined up to do the initial reviewing and screening. Some of them volunteer, and others get paid nominal amounts to follow their whole methodology to do it. That’s where the money goes, not to Inc. Magazine.

When Ken’s family started Winning Workplaces, they did it because there was no recognition project for smaller organizations. In the 90s, when Ken was working for Fel-Pro, they made Forbes list of one of the good places to work in America. And when Fortune magazine started its 100 best companies to work for list, Fel-Pro was #4. When Fel-Pro was sold in 1998, one of the things they did was to share what they had learned with others, so they hit upon starting an organization. That’s where WW came from.

However, in 2000, Fortune Magazine stopped accepting applications from companies under 1,000 employees, and there was nowhere for smaller companies to go for this kind of recognition. That’s where the Top Small Company Workplaces project came from.

Since that time, it has proliferated, and there are now a number of recognition projects and lists around the country.

But — and this is where Winning Workplaces is different — theirs is the only ones where you can win once. Then you go into their hall of fame, and you can’t repeat.

Everyone else, on the other hand, has a business model where they sell their feedback to help companies move up the list, and earn a higher number, or at least to not fall off the list. In other words, companies will “sell” you consulting to keep you on the list; Winning Workplaces purposely avoids that kind of contamination.

So, having learned all that from Ken Lehman, I can see how the Top Small Company Workplaces award is actually worthwhile and beneficial to companies. I have to say a special thank you to Ken for calling me and setting me straight.

And now I want to enter the contest myself. But since we just moved into our new space 2 days ago (and we’re sharing it), I don’t know that we qualify.

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.


    1. Thanks Robby. I appreciate it.

    2. There’s nothing quite as humbling as making a mistake and admitting you were wrong.

      There may be no better way to gain respect from your readers.

      Good work, Erik!

      P.S. Something something failure something something secret something something success.


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